You CAN fight city hall...with the right blog

It's always interesting to see how people use the internet in creative ways for their own benefit. The latest in the hey, why didn't I think of that category may be a web site in which a married couple calls out their government officials on the carpet and lets everyone know how they've been doing, or not doing, their jobs.

Here's the story. Jerry and Michelle Udelson moved to Riverside, Illinois a couple years ago with their three kids and bought their dream home. (You can see a picture of the family here.) But the garage was really small, and so they sought permission to build a bigger one and gave their plans to the city for approval. It took something like a year, but the garage was approved, and naturally they began building. But last October, the director of Community Development for Riverside and chief building inspector realized the garage was too large and shouldn't have been approved. They issued a stop work order.

According to the Udelsons, the order wasn't received until April 15.

If the stop work order had been received in October, the Udelsons say that they could have fixed what they had begun building and made changes or started over, though it would have been costly: $20,000. But with not being told until April, they'll lose $100,000 if they have to demolish their almost-finished large garage and rebuild a smaller one.
Assuming this is all true, I can certainly see why they're griping, and frankly, I would have been furious to have received a stop-order back in October, let alone last April. I mean, the city initially said "yes." And it's not like they're trying to have a rickety old bridge demolished. It's just a garage that's a little larger than the city code allows. You can see the garage on their blog. It's not like it's an eyesore.

Anyway, Matt Baron, a PR guy I've worked with on articles before, recently set up a blog for the Udelsons called Help Us Halt the $100K Mistake. It's designed to basically attract attention and try to right the wrong that is currently ongoing in Riverside. Incidentally, if Baron's name is familiar to WalletPop readers, that's because he recently shamed his sister's bank by spreading the word that they had made a monthly bank error for years in the bank's favor, costing possibly as much $2,500, and wouldn't reimburse them for more than a few months' worth of money, which translated to something like $50.

(As it turned out, possibly due to a post I wrote about the incident, and the over 300 comments from AOL readers, Citizens Bank later reversed its decision, and to its credit, returned more than $1,000 to Judith Tremblay.)

So now Baron, who seems to be making a name for himself as a public relations champion for the aggrieved little guy, is hoping that Riverside will see the light and reverse its reverse order and allow the Udelsons to keep their oversized garage. They even have a poll that visitors to the blog can participate in and thus register their displeasure with Riverside, Illinois.

That's right -- you can vote for the Udelsons to keep their garage -- or side with Riverside. Not surprisingly, when I last checked, the vote was heavily stacked in favor of the Udelsons, though some people amazingly did side with the village government.

In any case, the blog is a great idea, and it's been working for the Udelsons. Local media has been covering their story and apparently putting pressure on Riverside to let the once-approved garage stay. And so it is something that people reading this might want to consider.

Have a financial disagreement with your city, in which you know in your heart of hearts that you're in the right and they're in the wrong? Take your case to the world wide web, set up a poll, and just possibly have the entire world weigh in.

Geoff Williams is a freelance journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
Read Full Story